Friday, October 19, 2012

Author Q&A :: Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood

From time to time, we'll be talking to great Australian authors about their local history and what inspired them to start researching and writing their stories.

This week we talk to Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher novel Unnatural Habits released by Allen & Unwin and we're giving away 5 copies of her new book over on our facebook page. Click here to enter!

The Phryne Fisher series includes Cocaine Blues, Flying too High, Murder on the Ballarat Train, Death at Victoria Dock, Blood and Circuses, The Green Mill Murder, Ruddy Gore, Urn Burial, Raisins and Almonds, Death Before Wicket, Away with the Fairies, Murder in Montparnasse, The Castlemaine Murders, Queen of the Flowers, Death by Water, Murder in the Dark, Murder on a Midsummer Night and Dead Man's Chest.

The Phryne Fisher series (pronounced Fry-knee, to rhyme with briny) began in 1989 with Cocaine Blues which was a great success. Kerry says that as long as people want to read them, she can keep writing them. Find out more about the series at: and follow the brilliant ABC TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

Below we asked Kerry about her writing and happily she answered. You can also find more from Kerry Greenwood in our Issue 10: May-Jun 2012 edition, where Emma Sutcliffe spoke with Kerry about Phryne Fisher and her adventures. Click to buy Issue 10.


IHM. Q. What inspired you to start researching and writing?
  • Kerry: I have always loved stories, and history is a collection of fascinating stories, so I combined the two - and when I have researched enough, the story demands to be told. It's intoxicating.
IHM. Q. Which resources did you find most helpful?
  • Kerry: Newspapers. Extra information. What Umberto Eco calls the 'relished inessentials'.
IHM. Q. Favourite website? Kerry: Trove
IHM. Q. Favourite library? Kerry: State Library of Victoria

IHM. Q. What resources did you come across when researching your books that hasn't been widely used by others?

  • Kerry: People. I got to interview people who were around in 1928. So I listened to the voices, the accents, the slang, and I also had the privilege of asking questions.
IHM. Q. Was there any information you uncovered that stopped you in your tracks?
  • Kerry: I found a brave policeman in Castlemaine who stopped an anti-Chinese riot. He had no name, just a number from a system of which all records were lost, but I found him, gave him his name, and he has a plaque on the wall at the new Castlemaine police station. Until I found him and named him his courage was forgotten...
IHM. Q. Which stories affected you the most in your research?
  • Kerry: The miserable cruel lives of the women in the Magdalen Laundry. Reduced me to pulp, and I had to keep on reading.
IHM. Q. Which stories amused you the most in the course of your research?
  • Kerry: I really laughed at the method of producing ortolans en brochette in Australia. And I found a minties ad of one man hanging on to another man's shoe which is coming off as they both dangle from a girder high up above the ground. The caption is 'Stop laughing, this is serious!' There's something very Australian about it.
IHM. Q. If you could track down one thing you haven¹t yet managed to find out, what would it be?
  • Kerry: I won't know until I start researching the next Phryne. There is always something... Do I get a wish?
IHM. Q. What¹s your best tip for people wanting to write a history book of their own?
  • Kerry: Read novels set in the time, then read all the newspapers and magazines you can find, before wandering in and out of a few museums... and see how many voice/oral history tapes you can find. Voices are important. And if you are writing your own memoirs, consider what your audience wants to know ie. what you had for breakfast, who cooked it, what was your school uniform like, how did you get to school, who were your friends... all that sort of thing - and how you FELT... rather than a potted history of your time. There are plenty of them but only you know how you hated wearing gloves, and how that starched collar scored your neck.
IHM. Q. How did you go about bringing the characters to life?
  • Kerry: They tell me how to write the book. Imagine them well enough and for long enough, and they'll start talking to you.
IHM. Q. How do you know when you¹ve written a good book?
  • Kerry: Someone else tells me and people buy them. I have no judgement at all about my own books.


"The attack came suddenly. Out of the hot darkness in the notorious Little Lon came three thugs armed with bicycle chains. The tallest lashed his against the crumbling side of a building. It hit a metal sign advertising Dr Parkinson’s Pink Pills for Pale People, which rang like a drum.
‘An ominous noise,’ commented Dr Elizabeth MacMillan.
‘The natives are restless,’ agreed her companion. 
She was the Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher, five feet two with eyes of green and black hair cut into a cap. They were not the target of this assault. They were blamelessly approaching the Adventuresses Club bent on nothing more controversial than a White Lady (Phryne) and a dram of good single malt (Dr MacMillan) and an evening’s exchange of views on weather, politics and medicine. But Little Lonsdale Street was always liable to provide unexpected experiences. However, the person who was fated for a good shellacking appeared to be lone, female and unprotected, which could not be allowed. Phryne turned abruptly on her Louis heel and, putting both fingers in her mouth, whistled shrilly. 
‘Look out, boys!’ she yelled. ‘Cops!...........'"
From Chapter 1 of Unnatural Habits. Click here to read more from the Unnatural Habits, from our friends at Allen & Unwin

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